Plan Now to Help Community Prepare for Disasters

Nick Ortiz
Nick Ortiz

The wild winter and spring weather we’re having across the West has made me think about the role of local chambers in responding to emergencies and natural disasters in their regions. Like so many things in the communities you serve, when something happens, your stakeholders are looking to the chamber for leadership.

Your members and community will expect, sometimes unreasonably, that their local chamber will have the information businesses need immediately. As we all know from the pandemic, when many local chambers became the one-stop shop for information about federal, state and local assistance programs, it takes a while to research the resources available and develop tools to help your members access them.

It’s an unfortunate truth, but every community will face adversity, and it’s important that chambers have a plan to serve their members and region.

Business Continuity Plan

Your community is relying on you, so the first imperative is ensuring that you have a business continuity plan for your organization. This requires thinking about how your chamber would deal with a natural or man-made disaster, including how your employees would get to the office or work remotely, and what common threats exist for your operation and how to mitigate them.

For instance, if you live in an earthquake-, tornado-, or hurricane-prone area, what steps can you take to secure your building and personnel? How can equipment be protected from the impacts? What redundancies and resources are necessary to secure your vital information, including historical documents as well as current financial and membership records?

More than anything, ensuring that your continuity plan is written, reviewed by staff and rehearsed will develop the muscle memory needed for your chamber to respond to a disaster.

Before Disaster Strikes

The U.S. Chamber’s Chambers of Commerce Preparedness guide offers great information, including the recommendation that your chamber develop relationships with local government and first responders in advance of a disaster. That way, you are top of mind when they’re distributing information, have a role in recovery planning, and can assist them in connecting to the business community. This includes developing a relationship with your local office of emergency management/preparedness.

Another aspect of helping business is advocacy after a major disaster. Ensuring that local, state and federal designations have been made appropriately and allow your members to access disaster resources is of the utmost importance toward assisting your members in business recovery and community rebuilding.

Finally, before disaster strikes, help your members plan as well. Hold workshops on business continuity planning, small business preparedness and resources to deal with common/regional threats. This will create resilience within your local business community and a culture of preparedness.

As we’ve seen this year, challenges faced by communities come at unexpected times — from unprecedented snowfall, to flooding, to train derailments and more. But one thing you can always count on is that your communities will rely on their local chambers for information, tools and advocacy.

Check out the U.S. Chamber’s guide on Chambers of Commerce Preparedness from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Nick Ortiz is president and CEO of W.A.C.E. and vice president of local chamber relations at the California Chamber.